Love, kindness and respect are our saving grace in a time of fear

Opinion piece originally published with the Dallas Morning News

Last week, a 12-year-old middle school student in Arlington, Texas, was arrestedafter an alleged bomb threat. It remains unclear whether a classmate falsely accused the boy, Armaan Singh, of having a bomb or if the boy who was detained made the bomb threat in jest.

What we do know is that the alleged “bomb” turned out to be a harmless power backpack used to charge the boy’s cell phone. We also know that Armaan was detained for three days, during which his parents had no idea where he was.

Imagine how upset you would be if your child — who suffered from a congenital heart problem — went missing without a word. Think about the trauma he must have endured while being interrogated by officials without any family or friends present.

For an adult, this would be harrowing. For a scared 12-year-old kid, this is despicable. If we agree that the safety of our children is paramount, we can also surely agree that the extended detainment of a child without parental notification is also terrifying.

On behalf of adults and parents in this world, I am concerned by how this boy in particular and, our children in general, are being criminalized and treated as inhuman by law enforcement and school officials.

I am not asking for our law enforcement officials to stop doing their jobs. I care for our children’s safety as much as anyone. But arresting a child and detaining him behind bars for three days without informing his parents does not make any of us safer. This “lock children up first and ask questions later” policy can’t be the best solution that the people entrusted to watch, protect and educate our children have to offer.

In fact, treating our children this way breeds fear and animosity, which makes for a less safe environment. We ought to be teaching our children the values of love, empathy, creativity, and reason — not giving them tools to turn on each other if they don’t like one another.

In order to teach our children to love and respect one another, we must model this behavior ourselves. In our nation today, it is becoming increasingly acceptable to profile people based on how they look or what they believe. The divisive rhetoric of our current presidential candidates is emboldening our fellow Americans to act on racial prejudices.

We all know that it is wrong to stereotype people, and we do not want to go down the path of teaching our children that people who look different are a threat to our safety. Instead, we ought to be teaching our children the American cornerstone values of acceptance, diversity and freedom. These make us stronger in the classroom and across our community.

The boy who was arrested belongs to the Sikh religion and dreams of being an engineer. We are not related, but like him I am a Sikh American who was born and raised in Texas. There have been many moments in my life where police officers have profiled and questioned me because of how I look.

My own fellow Americans, including storeowners, soccer referees, and security agents have discriminated against me based solely on my appearance. My story is not unique; it’s shared by thousands of Americans who have become the targets of bias and backlash in this climate of fear that has overshadowed the past 14 years.

My saving grace, however, has been that the people around me — my community — embraced me with the love, kindness and respect that we all deserve. It is this kind of nurturing response that has helped me become who I am now. It’s imperative that we not let fear cloud our judgment and that we use our shared values to raise and protect all of our children today.

Simran Jeet Singh is an Assistant Professor of Religion at Trinity University and Senior Religion Fellow for the Sikh Coalition. He is also a Truman National Security Fellow.

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